EU launches legal action against pharmaceutical giant for not respecting its contract for the supply of Covid-19 vaccines, but AstraZeneca says it fully complied with advance purchase deal and will strongly defend itself in court.

AstraZeneca's contract with the European Union foresaw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among the 27 member countries, with the option for a further 100 million.
AstraZeneca's contract with the European Union foresaw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among the 27 member countries, with the option for a further 100 million. (Reuters)

The European Commission has launched legal action against vaccine maker AstraZeneca for allegedly failing to respect the terms of its contract with the bloc – a charge AstraZeneca has denied, saying such an action over vaccines is "without merit".

Spokesperson Stefan De Keersmaecker said on Monday that "the Commission has started last Friday legal action against the company AstraZeneca on the basis of breaches of the advance purchase agreement."

He said that the reason for the legal action was that "some terms of the contract have not been respected" and that "the company has not been in a position to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure a timely delivery of doses."

AstraZeneca's contract with the European Union foresaw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among the 27 member countries, with the option for a further 100 million.

But only 30 million doses were delivered in the first quarter of 2021, and the company says it can only provide 70 million in the second quarter, rather than the 180 million it had promised.

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EU lawsuit

The EU executive and AstraZeneca have been at loggerheads as the British-Swedish company's alleged shortfall of deliveries to the bloc hobbled the early efforts to roll out jabs.

The commission — which has been responsible for procuring vaccines for all of the bloc  — informed member states last week of its plans to take the company to court and pressed for support from national governments.

Diplomats said any lawsuit against AstraZeneca would begin in a Belgian court — the jurisdiction agreed under the commission's contract with the AstraZeneca.

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Delivery dispute

AstraZeneca's French-Australian boss Pascal Soriot has argued that his company's contract with the EU binds it only to a "best reasonable efforts" clause.

But the commission said the rest of the contract shows greater legal responsibility than that, and EU diplomats and lawmakers have pointed out that the company has largely delivered promised doses to Britain, where it is headquartered.

"We want to make sure there is a speedy delivery of a sufficient number of doses that European citizens are entitled to and which have been promised on the basis of the contract," De Keersmaecker told a news conference, noting all 27 EU states backed the move.

AstraZeneca: EU action is without merit

AstraZeneca on Monday said that legal action by the European Union against it is without merit and pledged to defend itself strongly in court.

"AstraZeneca has fully complied with the Advance Purchase Agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court. We believe any litigation is without merit and we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible," AstraZeneca said in a statement. 

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies